In the coming weeks, this blog will feature interviews with the winners of the “Share Your SmartMusic Story” contest. This week we’ll start with our grand prize winner, Sister Gail Buckman.
Sister Gail began her musical studies with the piano in grade school, and taking up the clarinet, she was in band, orchestra, and chorus in high school. She received her bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame College in St. Louis, Missouri, and her master’s in music education from University of Missouri-Columbia. She is now in her forty-second year of teaching in the St. Louis area, and has been at Saint Gabriel the Archangel School for the last thirteen years. Sister Gail started using SmartMusic about three years ago and it is now an integral part of her program.
How did you react to learning you had won the “Share Your SmartMusic Story” Contest?
You do things because they’re good for your students. You don’t expect to get a reward for them, but this is like icing on the cake.
Why did you decide to use SmartMusic?
I first thought SmartMusic was a way to teach by rote. I attended several workshops and learned more about it and saw that it was not that. I felt that it could fit into my program. I saw the immediate feedback it would be able to give students as well as how the tempo could be changed without changing the pitch.
What did you do to get SmartMusic up and running?
Besides the students being able to use it at home, I wanted to use SmartMusic as part of my teaching in the classroom. We did some fundraising to purchase a laptop computer, speakers, a projector and a screen. There was no Internet in my classroom when I started using SmartMusic so I had to figure that out as well.
Now that you have been using SmartMusic for awhile, what type of effect has it had with your students?
When the kids first saw the red and green notes, they were captivated just like I was. To be able to see if they played right or wrong immediately was amazing! My clarinet players are progressing so much faster with all the literature and exercises that are available.
It is remarkable how much SmartMusic has helped my trombone players. Positions are not exactly the same on every instrument. For example, if a student plays the note D in what is supposed to be fourth position and SmartMusic shows a red note Db, I can say to the student, “Now what do you have to do to get that to a D natural?” This helps make this process so much easier as the feedback is immediate. They don’t have to wait to find out what needs to be corrected like you do when you take an in-class test the old way and have to wait to find out. Students having SmartMusic at home is an extension of my classroom.
Are students using SmartMusic at home?
Just about all of my 120 students are using SmartMusic at home. It is really part of our curriculum now. It is not just something extra we do. I send out SmartMusic assignments and the students can do them here at school, at home, or at a friend’s house.
The Gradebook helps me keep track of the students. I can easily see who has done the assignments. If a student hasn’t submitted an assignment, I don’t have to chase them down. This is important because I only see my students a few times a week. I click on their e-mail address (or their parents’) and send them a reminder. This is such a big time-saver. I have a beginner trumpet player who told me he plays with SmartMusic every night and it’s more fun than a video game!
How do you use SmartMusic during a class?
When I start a class, I turn SmartMusic on. I use it throughout the class when I need to for different purposes, for example, ear training and scales. Because I have a screen and can project SmartMusic, I can have the students focus all at one time on what I am teaching. Even if what I show is for another instrument, all the students can look at the rhythm, music symbols, or just how the music is set up. I like that I can always talk about music and not water down the vocabulary. This pulls them in and helps make my teaching time and their learning more efficient.
What type of comments have the parents given you?
After I demonstrate what SmartMusic can do at a parent meeting, they ask, “Why wouldn’t you want to use this?” They are surprised to find out that the cost of SmartMusic is very reasonable. Parents who have played an instrument say that they want to pick up their instrument again because it looks like so much fun! When their child practices with SmartMusic, it is easier to hear the mistakes and then the progress that is being made. Parents who don’t know music feel like they have a better handle on what their kids are doing.
What do you think about SmartMusic 2010?
When I first saw the new interface, I wasn’t too sure about it because I was so used to the other screen. The kids seem to find it so much easier. I like how you can type in words to do a search so finding music is easier than it used to be. There are many new features but one of my favorites is the new Playlist function.
What do you think about using technology in your classroom?
Technology is an enhancement to my teaching. SmartMusic has so many useful features that I can use with students and in the classroom. For example, it is so easy to record students and then have them listen back and analyze their performance.
Do you have any special plans with the prizes you have won?
I plan on using the $500 JW Pepper gift certificate to buy music that is in SmartMusic! Part of the $2,500 will go to my community and part will be for the band program. We are thinking of possibly starting some type of scholarship program.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I want to thank everyone at MakeMusic for sponsoring the Share Your Story contest and for what you are doing with SmartMusic. I like the access you are making for teachers, like the blog for instance.
Thank you, Sister Gail, for being an inspiration for us all!